Patricia Sullivan's trip to Pendleton in 1983 was just a side trip in life.
The young attorney had just ended a clerkship with the Georgia State Court of Appeals. She planned to spend a few months helping her big sister open an art gallery before starting work with a law firm.
Twenty-five years later, Sullivan is still here. The inexperienced lawyer is now the Honorable Patricia Sullivan, a U.S. magistrate who is about to receive a heavyweight honor - the Justice Betty Roberts Award.
The award recognizes an Oregon attorney who distinguishes herself as an outstanding mentor and role model for women in the legal profession. It's named for Oregon's first female court justice, Betty Roberts - a woman who earned her law degree at age 43 and went on to blaze trails for female attorneys.
Sullivan will receive the honor tonight at the Governor's Hotel in Portland in front of 1,000 colleagues.
But, that's jumping ahead - back to 1983.
Within days of arriving in Pendleton, Sullivan met her future husband Steve Thomas and snagged a job offer from Steve Corey of Corey, Byler, Rew, Lorenzen and Hojem. She accepted the position, becoming one of a handful of female attorneys in Eastern Oregon.
She passed the Oregon bar exam and worked part-time at the firm and, before long, gave birth to two daughters. In 2005, she was selected as magistrate judge for the District of Oregon while continuing to work part-time for the law firm.
As Sullivan honed her law skills, she also felt compelled to encourage young female attorneys who wandered into her orb. Many a newbie lawyer has experienced Sullivan's personal touch on their professional lives.
Sally Anderson-Hansell and Eva J. Temple met Sullivan as young, green attorneys. Sullivan took each of them under her wing, guiding them to organizations and connecting them with others in the legal profession.
"She does it in such a subtle way that you don't know it's happening to you," Temple said. "Suddenly you're having wine and sitting down with a federal judge."
"She kind of drags you along," Anderson-Hansell said. "Because it's Pat, you can't say no and you know you'll have a good time."
In their nomination letter for Sullivan, Temple and Anderson-Hansell wrote, "When she began practicing law in Pendleton, there were only four or five woman lawyers in Umatilla and Morrow counties. Through her efforts, the Rebecca J. Bloom Chapter (of Oregon Women Lawyers) has grown to more than 20 lawyers that meet regularly."
Sullivan's brand of networking is decidedly female and not usually done on the golf course. For her, it's just a way of life.
"Networking to her just comes naturally and comes in an ideal form," Anderson-Hansell said. "She makes friends first, connections second."
Ann Aiken, a United States district judge and a friend of Sullivan's, called Sullivan "a latter-day Betty Roberts" and said the attorney branched into other leadership roles in Pendleton - serving on the school board for eight years, sitting on the SMART Council and spearheading the Pioneer Relief Nursery.
"Pat's efforts are not borne out of ambition," Aiken said. "She has simply given back to a community that has made her feel welcome and part of its rich fabric."